Manjunath P had an epiphany when came to Cochin on a holiday from the US. A meeting with a passionate farmer prompted him to change course and he hasn’t looked back since.
The moment of truth
Like most Indians of his generation, a corporate job was what was in store for Manjunath P as he set out on his career. He took the software route and worked as a consultant for some major corporations. His work saw him spend some years in Dubai and later move to the US. Then, he came home to Kerala on a holiday. “I had a chance encounter with Abrose Oliyath (now his business partner) who ran a small café serving healthy food. He was also a passionate farmer, driven by Gandhian thought and a great believer in sustainability,” says Manjunath. “At that point, I wasn’t certain what direction I wanted to take, but at the back of my mind there was the urge to quit the corporate world and do something different.” Getting to know Ambrose Oliyath gave Manjunath the direction he was looking for. “I was fascinated by the idea of taking up farming. So we joined hands, bought some land in Munnar and began farming.” The produce from the farm gave them the idea to set up a restaurant and they created an all-organic eatery in Cochin.
Big city beckons
While it was deeply satisfying, the pressures of business began to be felt and Manjunath decided to move to Bangalore where he expected the market to be bigger. So, in 2009, Lumiere, an organic restaurant and store, opened in Marathahalli. “It was way ahead of its time and organic wasn’t the widely-known concept that it is today,” says Manjunath. Still, he had an unshakeable belief that this was the path to tread. “There are many driving forces behind what we do,” he says. “We can offer people healthier, safer food. We can embrace and promote farming methods that conserve rather than damage the earth and the environment. We can work with local communities and empower them.”
Making the passion pay
His passion and persistence has paved the way for the Lumiere brand to expand. In 2015, another store opened in Whitefield and now there’s one in Koramangala. Lumiere stores stock all-organic produce from Lumiere’s own farms and also from the farms they work with. “We are in the process of setting up a fairly large farm in Thali, just outside Bangalore and should be able to increase the volume and choice we offer customers,” Manjunath says. The stores also stock a range of organic spices, grains, lentils, oil, plus cosmetics, grooming products and cleaning products. Interacting with customers and talking about the philosophy behind everything they do is one of the things that Manjunath enjoys as part of his daily routine.
That feeling of goodness
Yes, it is challenging, he admits. “A niche concept such as this is up against the big players in the mainstream.” But he is not in the least deterred and has, in fact, managed to attract committed investors who are backing his expansion plans. “Though any venture must make business and financial sense, that is what not I’m essentially seeking,” says Manjunath. “When a customer tells me how much she enjoys cooking with our vegetables that gives me a big high. Also, I know that I am able to go about chasing my passion without harming the earth and that is a wonderful feeling, too.”
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